The Invisible War (2012)
Talk about your all-time wake-up calls.
The Invisible War is a documentary about the United States Military and its deplorable history of handling, or rather not handling, reports of rape perpetrated by and against its male and female soldiers.
Man, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one, because after a certain point, all the infuriation just starts to congeal. As you can very well imagine, this one’s out to boil some blood, and by the first five minutes, it achieves its aims with ease. No, this is not an easy pill to swallow, nor is it the best option for date night, but at the end of the day, it’s a pill we need to take, and we’ll all be better for it.
But before I go any further, there is part of me that feels like I’m overstepping my bounds a bit by even writing this review. See, I don’t know what it’s like to be in the Military, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, I don’t know what it’s like to be raped. All I can provide is a civilian’s perspective on a subject that’s out of my personal realm of understanding, and as much as I can provide an opinion on the matter, it’s nevertheless coming from an outsider. But for the part of me that feels like I don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s an even larger part of me that believes the exact opposite. Even though I’m not a soldier, even though I’m not a woman, and even though I can’t speak from experience, I am a human being, and I have a moral compass.
And, at its core, that’s what this movie is about: a gross injustice that’s been consciously fostered by power-hungry individuals in a morally corrupt institution. And that, among many other things, is what makes this such a hard movie to write about. So before I start going off on people, let me be clear there are great things about the US Military, things that I’m eternally grateful for and things that made all of the men and women in this movie give their lives to it so willingly. Man, some of the greatest people I’ve ever met are veterans, people I’ve admired and have shaped me to become the person I am today. To me, they are what’s great about the Military and the reasons why we hold the institution to such a incredibly high standard. But for all its qualities of greatness, for all the good it’s done and continues to do, it only make the stain that much harder to wash out.
Everything about this movie, from the facts laid out to the testimonials given, is nothing short of horrifying. Not five minutes went by where I wasn’t shaking my head and furrowing my brow, dumbfounded and shocked by what I was hearing and seeing. Going in, I was expecting it to hit a wall at some point and start sounding like the same info repeated back in different words. Unfortunately, this does not happen. Each new revelation is more horrendous and inexcusable than the last, and even though it made me feel like a model human being in turn, it wasn’t long before I started feeling ashamed to identify with the male sex. Though that’s not by any means an intent of the film – to make men across the globe feel guilty for their gender – it’s nonetheless an incredibly difficult thing to wrap one’s head around.
Rape, to me, is unforgivable. I am not alone in that mindset. But the reality is that there are an inordinate amount of men out there, in our nation’s Military no less, that are not only committing rape, but are part of an institution that’s been enabling them for years. Honestly, it’s a reality that’ll make you question your faith in humanity. And on top of that, it’s unbelievable to see the “preventative measures” that the Military has taken to address rape amongst the enlisted (eg: PSAs with catchy raps about the importance of a buddy system and just saying “No”), even more so to hear high-ranking female officers defend the said “steps” that have been taken, happily sweeping the facts under the rug despite what’s right in front of them. Guys, I could keep listing off examples, but hopefully you get the idea.
Now, I’m not a parent yet, but I’ve always to believed that if my future son or daughter were to enlist in the Military when they grow up, I would support their decision to do so. Not the path I chose to go down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one worth pursuing. Then I saw this, and now I’m effing terrified. It’s one thing to imagine what it would be like to hear that your child was raped, it’s another thing entirely to see and hear testimonials from the husbands and fathers who’ve heard it first-hand. “Heartbreaking” doesn’t cut it. No one should have to make that call, and no one should have to take it.
I mean, the real quandary to me is how the hell did we even get here? To think that this shit is actually happening, to think that it’s happening so much and being covered up so well that someone felt compelled to make an investigative documentary about it, to think that I’m writing a review where I actually feel compelled to talk about how awful rape is – it’s just fucking ridiculous. This is basic human rights stuff, stuff I no one should have to be outspoken about because there’s no excuse for why we shouldn’t all be on the same page. It’s a hard enough thing to process on an individual level, but it’s just that much more mind-boggling when you take a step back and get back to square one: the difference between right and wrong.
What’s even worse is that this isn’t all that surprising given the state of the world we live in. People can run for political office and split hairs over what constitutes “legitimate rape,” or even go so far as to claim that “some girls rape easy.” For chrissakes, just yesterday it was announced that the Air Force will undergo investigation for the largest sex scandal in its history. Why don’t people know better, and who gave these people enough power for them to abuse? What a disgrace, and thank God those clowns didn’t get elected.
Folks, call me crazy, but rape seems like a pretty cut-and-dry thing. Raping someone or being raped is the kind of thing I can barely even comprehend, and I truly don’t know how the act ever became an issue for debate. Yet, in some circles, it’s accepted, and to some certifiably monstrous people out there, it’s habit. Viewing rape as anything other than an act of pure evil is, frankly, insane. And letting someone get away with rape is not only criminal, but arguably worse. Sorry if I’m sounding at all rambling or repetitive here, it’s just a lot of frustration at once, and it’s enough to make a man explode.
And it’s hard because, for all the bad people responsible this stuff, I know that there are good people out there trying to do something about it. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta – someone who seemed genuinely disgusted and ashamed of the Military’s handling of sexual assaults back when he was on 60 Minutes earlier this year – has already taken significant steps in changing how sexual assaults are reported and investigated within individual units. Not to mention the men and women who were brave enough to participate in this film, and not to mention director Kirby Dick who was brave enough to make this film. But, as the film ultimately points out, this is not enough. Until men and women can enlist in the Military without fear of being sexually victimized by their peers or superiors, and until everyone pulls their head out of their asses and agree that rape is rape, it will never be enough.
It’s such a tragic movie, but the fact that it exists is the silver lining. Wouldn’t be surprised if this was a shoo-in come Oscar season, not that that really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Part of me felt inclined to give this movie a 9, if only for how devastating and ceaseless it is in uncovering one atrocity after another. It’s a film that made me angrier than it did impassioned, and it’s one of those docs that you probably need to be in the right mood for. However, it’s as required as viewing gets, and giving it anything less than a 10 just didn’t seem like an option. As men, as women, as people, we owe it to ourselves to know the truth and be educated about this stuff. We owe it to those who have survived being raped, continue to survive it, and also to those who haven’t. These people need help and attention in ways that a lot of us will never be able to comprehend, and for the most part, they haven’t been getting it and still aren’t either. And as much as this is a story about soldiers, it’s just as much as story about civilians. If rapists aren’t brought to justice while they’re enlisted, then what’s to stop them from changing their ways back home? Suddenly, it’s not such an easy thing to cover up or turn a blind eye to.
Look, it might be a tough go, but The Invisible War is without question one of the most important films you’ll see all year, and one that deserves the national attention its subjects are owed. While it’s hard to fathom that we ever got to this point, it’s mighty reassuring to find a film with the power to change it.
And if there are any veterans out there reading this, I would love to hear your thoughts.